How many e-newsletters do you receive? Probably a lot.
How many of those newsletters do you open every time you receive them? Probably not all of them.
How many are you actually excited to read as soon as they hit your inbox? Maybe none?
There’s at least one newsletter we not only open every time we get it, but we actually wish we received more often: comedian Louis C.K.’s.
Here’s how his latest newsletter, delivered August 8, starts:
Dear Human Person,
Hi. This is Louis CK. This is just a note to let you know that I have put a new show up on louisck.net. It’s called “Louis CK live at Madison Square Garden”. The show is exactly what is described there. It’s the audio from my last of 3 shows that I performed at Madison Square Garden early this year. Some of the material is in the Comedy Store Special. Some of it isn’t. But it’s also a fun show on it’s own. BUT since it’s repeated material, I’m giving you the option to set your price anywhere from 1 dollar to 85. The default is 5. I hope you like it.
It’s a pretty simple sales message, but it’s endearing because it’s unmistakably written in Louis C.K.’s voice. You can just imagine him setting up the joke for his audience, describing how he doesn’t know what to write in this email, so he decides to begin with “Dear Human Person.” (You can read the full email, and sign-up for the mailing list, on his website. You can also find older editions there, and they all pretty much read like this.)
Much of what makes Louis C.K.’s material so funny is that we can all relate with the situations he finds himself in, and businesses can certainly relate with the feeling of not knowing what to say in an email newsletter. Newsletters are a crucial element of many effective marketing programs because they allow brands to communicate directly with their audience, through a digital channel the company can own and control, that reliably keeps existing and potential customers aware and engaged. It also remains the case that while more than 90 percent of adults use email — to the point that people probably check email too often — more than a quarter of Americans don’t use social media at all. But knowing that email is important is a lot different than knowing how to get people to open, read and click through your emails.
There’s an ever-evolving list of best practices we use to advise our clients on how to make email communication effective. It can get very granular, like which words, and even how many characters, are most effective in subject lines to increase open rates. Even then, you ultimately can’t be 100 percent sure what works best with your audience until you test various iterations.
Instead of getting bogged down in those details, what works with this Louis C.K. newsletter? Is there a single, simple lesson to be learned from this?
The key lesson for businesses is that authenticity works.
By authentic, we simply mean genuine. Appearing to be truthful. Not trying to trick someone. It really should go without saying, but to be perfectly clear: people appreciate feeling like they aren’t being manipulated.
Louis C.K. makes his living on being brutally honest. His entire brand is built on authenticity. And everything about this newsletter echoes his personality.
For one, the sender label is “Louis C.K.”, whereas it could easily be “Louis C.K. News” or “Louis C.K. Fan Newsletter.” The feeling of getting a personal email from him directly is absolutely part of the appeal. Would you rather open an email from Microsoft, or Bill Gates?
Second, the subject line for this latest email is “New comedy album from Louis C.K.,” but other subject lines in the past have been “Very long email from Louis C.K.” and “Hello from Louis C.K.” Nothing ingenious there, except that they resist any inclination to be overly contrived. That’s clearly the opposite approach of endlessly parsing keywords, and there’s something to be said for it.
In fact, the effectiveness of casual subject lines has been tested and used for great success in other cases, particularly President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, which raised nearly $700 million using email subject lines like “Hey” and “Wow.” Their analysis of why those words worked? It was more like getting an email from a friend.
And then there’s the body of Louis C.K.’s newsletter itself, which also resembles little more than an email you would send to a friend. Clearly, it’s funny, and in that way it’s valuable content in and of itself. It’s also simply written with everyday language (and a few grammatical errors).
Businesses shouldn’t expect to be as witty as one of the funniest people on the planet. Furthermore, humor’s exactly what we want from a comedian, but probably not from the company managing our life savings, or caring for our health.
Fortunately, businesses don’t need to be hilarious to make this approach work for them. They simply need to find ways to be authentic, to be honest, to speak to their audience as they would if they met in a restaurant. They should resist the inclination to make writing more complex and jargon-ridden than it needs to be.
We know that’s easier said than done, but those businesses who can find a way to be authentic will be the few whose newsletters people read every time.